Fifteen years after its enactment, the number of people convicted under the Law for the Prevention of Sexual Harassment remains negligible. Despite the law’s clear language, data from the state prosecution show that of 515 sexual harassment cases opened by the police in 2012, only 25 resulted in a criminal indictment. A substantial portion of the cases that reached the prosecution were closed for lack of evidence, while only a very small number (11 cases) were closed because no crime had been committed.
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The number of indictments is particularly small given the large number of complaints that reach the rape crisis centers. In 2012, these centers received 7,700 complaints, the vast majority filed by women.
It would be a mistake to dismiss the gap between the number of complaints and the number of indictments with the excuse that these are “trivial complaints” by women. Sexual harassment is a spreading plague in Israeli society, affecting all its networks and institutions, a fact demonstrated by the long of list of people accused of it – from television and entertainment stars to senior police and government officials. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
The difficulty in proving sexual harassment as a criminal offense stems from problems such as the complainant’s failure to file a complaint, as required by the law; the absence of a relationship in which the harasser has authority over the complainant; and difficulties in gathering evidence. But none of this mitigates the moral failing inherent in sexual harassment, or the fact that it is an ugly expression of violence and force by one person against another.
The prosecution’s activity is guided by one clear criterion – the likelihood of conviction – rather than by moral considerations or a desire to educate the public. Nevertheless, there are things the prosecution could do to make it clear to the public that sexual harassment is a serious crime. For instance, it could focus on “flagship cases” as a vehicle for sending the message that sexual harassment is a moral disgrace. In addition, stiffer sentencing for this crime should be considered.
This week, Dorit Selinger, the Finance Ministry’s supervisor of capital markets, insurance and savings, decided to require insurance companies to amend their policies to exclude coverage for people convicted of sexual harassment or who reached a settlement in a sexual harassment case. In Selinger’s view, “Sexual harassment is fundamentally unacceptable, and therefore there’s no reason to allow insurance for harassers.”
Within her field of responsibility, Selinger has made it clear that even if sexual harassment isn’t always criminal, it is always immoral. Others should adopt the same approach.